The Passerelle Senghor and its Sounds
OF THE THIRTY-SEVEN bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits four of them are pedestrian footbridges or “passerelles piétonnières”.
As part of my ‘Paris Bridges’ project I’ve been to explore one of them, the Passerelle Senghor or to give it its full name, the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor.
The Passerelle Senghor stretches from the Quai Anatole France and the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank to the Quai des Tuileries and the Jardin des Tuileries on the Right Bank.
Passerelle Senghor from upstream
It was in 1861 when the first bridge to cross la Seine at this point was opened. It was a three-arch cast iron bridge built for vehicular traffic.
Built by the French engineers, Paul-Martin Gallocher de Lagalisserie and Jules Savarin, the bridge was named Pont de Solférino after the 1859 French victory of the Battle of Solférino.
Pont de Solférino 1859 – 1960
Image – Annales des Ponts et Chaussées – 4ème série – Mémoires et Documents, Tome 8 – 1864 – p207-209.
This bridge survived for a century before wear and tear took its toll and it was demolished and replaced in 1961 with a steel footbridge, which survived until 1992.
Passerelle Senghor from downstream
Work began on a new footbridge in 1997. Designed by the French architect, Marc Mimram, the bridge crosses the river in a single span with no intermediate support. The sweeping steel span is anchored by means of two abutments, one at each end, which sink fifteen metres below ground.
The French engineering company, Eiffel Constructions Métalliques, part of the Eiffage Group, were responsible for the metal components of the bridge and of course, Eiffel Constructions Métalliques is descended from the same company that made the Tour Eiffel, the Statue of Liberty and in more recent times the spectacular Millau Viaduct.
The walkways on the bridge are made from the exotic hardwood, Lophira alata, commonly known as azobé, or red ironwood.
This new bridge, the Passerelle Solférino, was opened on 14th December 1999 but not without controversy. There were complaints about the lack of accessibility for people with reduced mobility, environmentalists complained about the choice of wood for the walkways and others complained that when wet the walkways would be dangerous. Most serious of all was that on the opening day several of the guests said that they could feel the bridge swaying as they stood on it. As a consequence, less than a week after it was opened the bridge was closed.
It wasn’t until 12th November 2000, almost one year later, and after an anti-skid system had been applied to the walkways and dampers installed to temper the swaying, that the bridge finally opened to the public. The original cost of the bridge was 91.6 million Francs and the additional work added another 6 million Francs all of which was financed by the State through l’Etablissement public de maîtrise d’ouvrage des travaux culturels, part of the Ministry of Culture.
Upon its reopening the bridge proved to be a great success.
And the final chapter in the story of this footbridge is that in October 2006 the bridge’s name was changed from the Passerelle Solférino to the Passerelle Senghor. The name change marked the centenary of the birth of Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906 – 2001), a Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who from 1960 to 1980 served as the first president of Senegal. He was also the first African to be elected as a member of the Académie Française.
My Paris Bridges project is not only about exploring the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, it’s also about identifying and capturing the characteristic sounds of each bridge.
So, what are the characteristic sounds of the Passerelle Senghor?
Passerelle Senghor – Under the Bridge:
In a previous post about my Paris Bridges project I said that all the Paris bridges have two sets of sounds in common – the sounds of water and the sounds of river and vehicular traffic although these sounds might in some cases vary sufficiently to help identify each bridge. I also said that my challenge is to find other sounds that are unique to each bridge.
Passerelle Senghor – River traffic passing from upstream
The Passerelle Senghor certainly has its fair share of passing river traffic. The boats seem to arrive in clusters from both upstream and downstream. Standing on the Quai des Tuileries there were quite long periods with just the sounds of water and then a clutch of boats would arrive sometimes two or three abreast. The tourist boats of course provide most of the traffic with the Bateaux Mouches, the Vedettes de Paris and the Batobus passing regularly but sometimes very long, very workmanlike, industrial barges also pass by.
Picture taken from the Quai Voltaire looking upstream towards the Passerelle Senghor
The Passerelle Senghor is one of the few bridges in Paris where the sound of river traffic dominates the sound of vehicular traffic for most of the time.
But are there any other characteristic sounds that we might say are unique to this bridge?
Passerelle Senghor – On the bridge looking upstream
Passerelle Senghor – On the Bridge:
I took my microphones onto the bridge to see what I could find. I sat in the centre of the bridge on the top deck facing upstream and began to record.
The voices of people passing by me with snatches of half-heard conversations, which I always find fascinating, punctuated with the sounds of boats passing to and fro directly underneath me and the distant sounds of traffic on the Quai des Tuileries on one side and the Quai Anatole France on the other provided the canvas upon which was painted the unique sounds of the bridge – the sounds of footsteps passing over the exotic wood of the walkway.
Although the sounds of footsteps over the exotic wooden walkways of the Passerelle Senghor certainly are characteristic sounds of this bridge I have to be cautious about saying that they are unique to this bridge.
There is another elegant, modern footbridge crossing la Seine further upstream that also has exotic wooden walkways, the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir. I have yet to explore this bridge in detail and it could be that the sounds of the footsteps over this bridge are the same, or similar to the sounds of footsteps over the Passerelle Senghor.
Still, distinguishing the subtleties and nuances of the sounds of each of the Paris bridges is one of the things that makes this project so fascinating.
As well has searching for unique sounds on the Passerelle Senghor there is one unique visual feature that I found – this statue of Thomas Jefferson, US ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789 and then President of the United Sates. The statue by the French sculptor, Jean Cardot, was erected on 4th July 2004, American Independence Day.
Here are some more sights of the Passerelle Senghor: